Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

Those in the crisis communications sector of public relations will have a very Merry Christmas indeed.  Your client list is growing and billable hours are overflowing! Accusations of powerful men (and at least one woman—Mariah Carey) behaving badly have been flying thick and fast.  The professional, political, personal and financial fall-out will be enormous.  Whose brand will be resilient enough to survive the scandal?

Re: the accused, the smart (and probably most evolved) perpetrators quickly ‘fessed up, accepted responsibility and apologized to those who felt violated and hurt, whether a presumed victim or family member (e.g., soon to be ex-Senator Al Franken and comedian Louis C.K.).  My guess is that those with the pragmatism, if not decency, to own up early on will fare the best in the long run.  A couple of years of restorative PR may possibly allow them to re-enter polite society and re-start a public career,

The arrogant—-most notably, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer—are probably finished.  Their public careers are over and they’ve seen the last of good tables in the right restaurants.  The trophy wives of Lauer and Weinstein have jumped ship, now that indiscretions of which they were well aware have become public (Cosby’s wife opted to ride it out).

Yet the most arrogant and most teflon of all publicly accused violators—former President Bill Clinton—faced allegations so serious and believable that he was successfully impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998, only the second impeachment of a president in U.S. history (he was acquitted by the Senate in 1999).  Furthermore, he was compelled to pay a settlement that exceeded $850,000 to former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones, who sued Clinton in 1994 for sexual harassment.

High profile feminists (Gloria Steinem, Senator Dianne Feinstein, et al.) defended Clinton to the end and they still do (as they attack President Donald Trump for less onerous and numerous incidents and remain silent on Weinstein, who’s been a big contributor to “liberal” causes).

Clinton never apologized to anyone for anything and he vociferously denied his actions (“I did not have sex with that woman!” [Monica Lewinsky]). Like it or not, it’s obvious that the Clinton brand is the strongest in the land (and the most controversial, too).

Regardless of the Bill Clinton style, effective leaders learn how to apologize.  What is an apology and why is making one necessary?  An apology is a statement in which an individual expresses sincere remorse for behavior that can be considered inappropriate and that person acknowledges that s/he has hurt, mislead, embarrassed, or betrayed another—the public trust, a friend, colleague, or intimate partner.  An explanation, not to be confused with an excuse, could be made, as might an offer to make amends or restitution.

Trust, respect, team building and performance will be positively impacted when you make it clear that you, the leader, are willing to hold yourself accountable for your behavior, including your missteps.  Your apology is the core of that process.

Lolly Daskel, President and CEO of Lead From Within, says that there is a wrong way and a right way to apologize and I’m sure that you’ll agree.  Most of us have received so-called “apologies” that were offered grudgingly, sometimes under duress, or given disingenuously, in an attempt by the perpetrator to evade responsibility for his/her actions.

An apology is a statement in which an individual expresses sincere remorse for his/her behavior and acknowledges that s/he has hurt, mislead, embarrassed, or betrayed the public trust, a friend, or an intimate partner.  An explanation, not to be confused with an excuse, might be made as might an offer to make amends or restitution.

THE WRONG WAY TO APOLOGIZE

Blaming

A former colleague from the my days in the corporate world was known to say “Never complain, never explain.” Lolly Daskel would add “and do not blame.” Pushing responsibility onto others when it was you who dropped the ball is the wrong thing to do, every time.  As temporarily uncomfortable as it may make you feel, put on your big girl pants and admit your mistake.  Apologize to those whom you offended or inconvenienced.  Make restitution when possible and move on.  You will when respect and admiration when you do.  Blamers are losers and they never win.

Excuses

While there may have been legitimate reasons for making a mess of a situation, or burning dinner,  or not completing an important assignment, be careful that you don’t devolve into making too many excuses as you explain to those who may want to know what happened.  Just say you’re sorry and that you should have stayed on top of things, or started earlier, or whatever.  Once again, it’s about taking responsibility for your behavior.

Justifying

Don’t even think about trying to defend your behavior when you’ve screwed up.  I mean, there goes your credibility, down the drain.  Own up and apologize.  Now.

Minimizing

When you’ve let someone down, it is imperative that you take their hurt or inconvenience seriously.   In no way are you entitled to deny the full measure of the outcomes that are the result of your failure to hold up your end.  That other person has every right to be upset when they’ve been let down.  If you did not come through as expected, squelch the temptation to resort to manipulation and accept responsibility, apologize and make amends ASAP.

Shaming

Those who feel that they are doing quite enough for you (whether or not that can objectively be considered the truth) may sometimes feel entitled to break promises large and small, if they eventually find fulfilling that obligation inconvenient or expensive in some way.   When you speak up they attack and accuse you of being ungrateful for all the “other” favors they’ve done for you.  You have a right to expect that someone will keep their word.  Shame on them for being both unreliable and manipulative.

Stonewalling

Refusing to apologize, discuss, or acknowledge your mistakes or bad behavior and the difficulties it causes other people is called stonewalling.  It is abusive behavior.  It is hugely disrespectful.  Seek therapy immediately if this is common behavior for you.

THE RIGHT WAY TO APOLOGIZE

Timing

An apology is much more meaningful when it is delivered sooner, rather than later.  The longer that the offending party avoids making a sincere apology, the greater the risk to the relationship.

Acknowledge

Admit what you’ve done and apologize for the inconvenience, misunderstanding, hurt feelings, or embarrassment that you’ve caused.  This is an important step toward maintaining or rebuilding the trust that the other person had in you.

Accept

Own your behavior.  Show the respect that you have for the injured party and the esteem in which you hold him/her when you make a proper apology.  Demonstrate that this person matters and is entitled to your integrity.

Express

The apology made must be sincere and not self-serving.  Be prepared to grovel a little, if you’ve really dropped the ball, or if the other person(s) is very hurt or angry.  You can explain why or how you miscalculated, but don’t fall into excuse making.  Ask for forgiveness.

Amend

Do what you can to mend fences, so that you can soothe hurt feelings compensate for disappointment,

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Secret Hearts #88, 1963  (the study for Ohhh Alright, 1964)  Roy Lichtenstein

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